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Is evil a problem for animals? Part II

This post is adapted from an original on 16 December 2010 at www.thinkingmatters.org.nz called “The Problem of Evil: Part Two” Here I will look at a possible solution for an evolutionary theodicy suggested by William Dembski, as criticised by Christopher Southgate.

Christopher Southgate criticises a chronological reading of the fall narrative with an initial state of perfection, footnoting the theodicy of William Dembski.[1] He is therefore aware of Dembski’s evolutionary theodicy. But does such a theodicy warrant his criticism?

Dembski advocates for a kairological reading Genesis 1-3.[2] On this theodicy, just as the salvific (relating to salvation) effects of the cross of Christ are retroactive in history, so too are the effects of the fall retroactive in history.[3] On this scheme, God foreknew the human response to temptation in the Garden of Eden, and so created a world that would reveal to humanity the gravity of the consequences of their sin. While Eden was an ideal environment that temporarily protected and provided for them prior to their rebellion, God had prepared the rest of creation for after their expulsion.

Balut

Southgate objects to this on the grounds that it is “weird” and “theologically extremely problematic.”[4] We can freely admit it is weird, but weirdness has never been an adequate test for truth. I prefer unfertilised chicken eggs – poached. In the Philippines they prefer incubated duck eggs – lightly boiled to raw so the tiny duckbill crunches between your teeth. This is called Balut, and is a common street food there. What strikes one person as weird is for another quite ordinary -even nice. A proposal such as Dembski’s will no doubt appear unusual for those who don’t prepare for future events, but for a God with perfect foreknowledge of the actions of his creatures this type of preparation would be perfectly typical.

It is theologically problematic, according to Southgate, for on Dembski’s scheme God is responsible for all the pain, suffering, death and predation in the animal kingdom, and thus the creator of natural evil.[5] I have already responded to the way Southgate conflates natural evil with moral evil. But this objection is further ill conceived, for God is the creator of the same amount of natural evil on Southgate’s proposal as well. Unlike Southgate, Dembski is up-front about this weakness. He says the fact that God created this evil (whether actively or by permission) is “a bitter pill to swallow.” Yet it is a pill that brings us the promise of redemption.[6]

In the current mental environment that accepts evolutionary theory and a long history of predation, it is still possible to affirm Christian doctrines such as God being all-powerful and all-loving, and a cosmic fall that traces back to human sin. A compound evolutionary theodicy can be strengthened by a middle knowledge perspective like Dembski’s on the fall.

Footnotes:

  1. Southgate refers to Demski’s online paper “Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science.” This work is no longer available, however his thoughts have been expanded and developed in a full length book, The End of Christianity; Finding a Good God in an Evil World, (Nashville, TE.; B&E Publishing, 2009).
  2. This nomenclature is based on the insight that there are two Greek words that translate for time. Chronos, which means approximately a duration, i.e. “he took his time,” or “at the time of the changing of the guards,” and Karios, which signifies intentionality, i.e. “in the fullness of time,” or “at the appointed time.”
  3. As Newcomb’s paradox demonstrates, the usual metaphysical rule of backwards causation does not apply when dealing with an omniscient God.
  4. Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 146.
  5. Southgate’s nomenclature is “ontological evil,” which is at once philosophically problematic; evil has no ontos (being), just as ice has no warmth. Evil is the privation of a good that should be there.
  6. William Dembski, The End of Christianity, 150. Dembski leaves this thought largely undeveloped. He does minimally state that God brings about natural evil to free us from the more insidious evil in our hearts.

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